When we talk about what is good (as I did when I said we should try to change towards more Good in this world), we usually do so bypassing the problem of definition.
“What is good” is differently defined by everybody.
We have a word in (as far as we know) every language which means Good, but it does not necessarily point to the same thing(s) and idea(s).
“What is good” for me when I say it (in English) in this part of the world may be very different for somebody who speaks another language in another part of the world.
We don’t have the same idea about what goes into Good.
We don’t agree about what things or ideas can be described as Good.
Nevertheless, we can agree on a couple of things. (Not much, just a couple).
The important thing is that in agreeing (or disagreeing) we are already engaged in a dialogue about “what is good”. We prove ourselves willing to say:
This is what I think is good. Do you agree with me?
Then the other person can reply Yes or No, and the question is
If the other person says No, can we continue the dialogue?
If we could continue the dialogue, that would be Good.
This means that Good in a universal way is “the changeable, modifiable Good”.
A kind of Good which (let us say) can be improved (through dialogue).
I mention this because I wanted to talk about a specific way of improving, which I’ve discovered in myself
- when I became a parent.
- when I started to identify myself as the father of a lovely little girl, who brought light into my life…
Of course, you hear all these anecdotes about how difficult and how stressful it is to attend to all the needs of a child. You hear people saying:
No more sleep, no more free time and so on.
While this is obviously true (and funny), it is more instructive to recognise that
- when you hear what a huge volume of resources a child demands of the parents
- you’re actually hearing the parents saying how much they want to attend to the Good of the child, to make the child’s life and experiences in this world Good.
I mean, you could change the diaper of the baby right away, as soon as this becomes necessary,
you could continue to watch TV or play your computer game for another hour and just ignore the baby.
But can you really (do the latter)?
- because of my own definition of “what is good” &
- due to my own way of seeing dialogues and potential for improvements everywhere,
at this point I thought that it would be natural (=universally true) to say that
people are improved when they become parents.
I feel that I became a better person when my daughter came into this world.
As parents we can be jolted out of our default inertia (“Can’t be bothered to”) because we feel an urge to do for our children all those
- things which you would forego doing for yourself,
- things which you would be willing to postpone doing for yourself,
- things which you would even resign to go without, for yourself.
Let’s say that you finished eating and you have to do the dishes. Now, if you’re just by yourself, you can say “I’ll do it later”, maybe even postpone it for a day or so.
However, when you’re attending to a child, you cannot help but do that which you know is Good right away.
(This was my experience, even though I now realise with a certain degree of sadness which is very difficult to convey that it is not a universally shared experience).
If I get up in the morning for myself (to write my blog, or to go to work), I do this with a certain reluctance.
However, when I get up in the morning for my daughter, whose experience I want to make the best possible, I do so with an alacrity and an enthusiasm of which I would not have thought myself capable of mustering 1 or 2 years ago.
As a parent,
- you may feel better about yourself because you appear more generous (you’re giving to another),
- but you mainly feel better because you know that you’re the sole person responsible for this child’s sense of well-being, for this child’s feeling or experiencing something Good.
You don’t want to take that away. You don’t want to rob your child of that possibility of feeling something Good.
(Especially for somebody like me who does not believe in the possibility of many good things happening in this world.)
I still believe and I still hold that people are improved
- by the experience of becoming parents,
- by the experience of taking care of another,
- by the experience of being put in dialogue at a very basic level, especially before the first words come out.
Is the child laughing or is the child crying?
Is the child smiling or is the child frowning?
Is the child comfortable (=the body feeling something Good) or uncomfortable?
You might ask these same questions of yourself, but for yourself you might be able to delay gratification (as they say in psychology). You might be answering:
I’ll do it later:
I don’t feel comfortable sitting here, but getting up to get a pillow feels like too much just now.
Yet, (I hope) you would not do this when you’re a parent, because for the child you’re (usually) the only person who can make this experience better.
You are there (in a position) to improve, to change into Good, another being’s experience in this world.
This is one situation where you definitely should not take shortcuts.
This is one situation where you definitely feel that you should not be taking shortcuts.
This is one situation where I’m definitely holding anybody up to this standard.
No shortcuts when you are a parent.
To improve the people we bring out into this world.